As an undergraduate student at Mississippi State in the 1980s, Julie Capella majored in English because of her longtime love for literature. Capella later realized that not only does she enjoy reading about people and the relationships that unfold through the pages, but she also loves to be a part of the story.
Just like the relational dynamics she read about from a young age, she enjoys the interpersonal dynamics of getting to know and helping a variety of people from diverse backgrounds—especially those facing obstacles and unique challenges.
With a bachelor’s in English and a master’s in English education, Capella experienced the classroom from a teacher’s perspective, but she learned that helping students one-on-one was how she could serve them best. A career as a counselor was the right fit.
Capella then returned to MSU to pursue a master’s degree in student affairs with a concentration in counselor education. She found the niche she would build her career upon and the MSU department that has given her an avenue for service for the past 25 years.
The assistant dean of students and director of MSU’s Office of Student Support Services since 2005 climbed the ranks from student worker and graduate assistant through counselor, and then assistant and associate director roles. Capella has seen growth, change and many, many students come through the office that helps students with disabilities, as well as low-income and first-generation college students.
The Kosciusko native remembers that it was difficult for her to transition as a freshman from a small town to a large university. Today, she and her colleagues work to help students make the best possible adjustment to college life. They also contribute ongoing support and help with needed accommodations for students with disabilities.
“We provide a home base for our students,” Capella said. “They can come and feel free to ask questions.”
When she started working at the university, her office served less than 160 students. The office worked with about 1,500 students this past semester and continues to expand services while maintaining that familiar, friendly “home-away-from-home” atmosphere for students.
“You have to be ready to change all the time. Each semester, we look at what we’ve done and what we could do better,” she said, explaining that staff are willing to go out and find partners when necessary to best serve the needs of the MSU community.
Some recent success stories include ACCESS, Mississippi’s only post-secondary program for students with intellectual disabilities that started with one student in 2010 and has grown to more than 20, as well as Autism Liaisons, which supports degree-seeking MSU students with autism.
“I like the challenge of new things, and these programs have brought a lot of opportunity for the whole institution,” she said.
Capella said that the most rewarding part of her work is seeing growth and development of both students and staff.
“I do what I do because someone helped me. To be able to give back has been great, but watching our students step into their own roles with care, insight and energy is the best. It’s wonderful to watch them grow.”